Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 June 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen
Written by: James Goss
Based on a Story by: Douglas Adams
Read by: Dan Starkey
Runtime: 9hrs 44mins
Originally Released January 2018
Avilable from Amazon UK
Like the preceding Douglas Adams adaptations, Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen presents an unusual challenge for a reviewer. There are really three different bases on which it needs to be judged – Adams’ original story, the success of the adaptor in capturing that while perhaps finessing the rough, unfinished edges, and whether the final result is actually any good. In the audiobook version, a fourth element is thrown on top of even that.

In terms of Adams’ canon, there’s an inescapable sense of desperately sieving the dirt and rocks at the bottom of the well for any last drops of murky fluid that can reasonably be called ‘water’.

Shada was an epic hole in Doctor Who’s history filled with Gareth Roberts’ meticulous research and skilfully Adamsesque writing. It allowed us a best guess of what Adams might have done with all the time in the world. And The Pirate Planet was one of the last remaining un-novelized 20th century Doctor Who stories. Both were a bit of a holy grail. They offered up the chance to explore all the gags and insights Adams had scribbled into the margins in his typical ‘up to the last minute’ style. The Krikktmen was a story loosely sketched out, then rejected, then worked on some more, and then rejected again.

Its pedigree as a story deemed not worth making first or even second times around immediately makes it that little bit less of a glittering prize. Even in terms of Krikkitmen’s original afterlife as Life, the Universe and Everything (aka most people’s least favourite Hitchhiker’s novel), makes for a less auspicious start. The existence of Life, the Universe and Everything creates a unique problem for Goss in his adaptation too. Shada was a script brimming full of ideas and characters, and Adams cherry picked a couple for recycling in the otherwise original Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. But Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen and the third Hitchhiker’s novel as essentially the same plot, with the same villains, and most of the same gags, only with different characters as our heroes. It makes it less of an exercise is trying to spot the bits Adams would later recycle and more trying to spot the bits he didn’t.

 

Prior to this adaptor James Goss has shown himself one of the most talented and prolific authors of Doctor Who books and audios, with a keen ear for the style and tone of any piece. Here he tries to address the unique nature of the project by adding on a couple of extra layers to the plot, but not wholly successfully. Adams’ concept was always a villainous, universe shuddering plan that didn’t make any sense. There’s a villainous xenophobic race whose motivation and end goal don’t really make any sense, exposed as a front for motivations and goals that make less sense. In Goss’ version, then exposed as yet another front for even more nonsensical motivations and goals.And as for their methods -- the whole scheme is a basically a two million year plot to press a button, where simply walking up to it and pressing it in the first place would have done as well.

As part of the rearrangement of the furniture there are journeys to more planets than I recall in the original, and new elements of Adamseque parody and these sometimes fall flat or are tonally misplaced. The elongated quest takes the Doctor, Romana and K9, for instance, to a planet where people are addicted to being terminally offended by everything. They complain about rescue ships being agents of ‘the patriarchy’ and the Doctor winds up vilified for telling a woman she’d be prettier if she smiled more. It's an attempt at the type of skewering of social orthodoxy Adams did so well, but lands well wide of the target.

Possibly the greatest misstep is making this an adventure for the Fourth Doctor, Roman and K9 at all, rather than the originally intended Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane. It immediately makes it a less interesting proposition and increases the sense of being the poor relation to the other Adams adaptations. The notion of what an ‘Adamsesque’ Doctor/Romana/K9 adventure looks like has been codified and established across dozens of TV episodes, novels and audios and the writer and the team seem to go together perfectly. But that just makes it seem all the more exciting to explore the road not taken. How would Adams have written Sarah Jane’s character? What roads would the humour have gone down? It’s a shame to miss the chance to find out.

 

But how does this fare as an audiobook? Narration duties are taken on by Dan Starkey – most famous to TV viewers as Strax and several other Sontaran characters since 2008. There are no Sontarans on offer here, but he still marshals all the forces at his command in an effort that could only be called heroic. Adams’ prose has always featured an odd contradiction whereby it reads like it was designed to be spoken aloud, but when spoken aloud it sounds like it really needs to be seen written down. Goss’ text magnifies that effect even more. Starkey navigates the river of footnotes, parentheses, diversions, and sudden intrusions from text books with the skill of a white-water kayaker throwing himself off 150ft falls for fun.

He also deserves nothing short of a standing ovation for taking a book with literally dozens of characters and making them all distinct, recognizable, and memorable. Many of them appear for only a scene or two or – worse from the narrator and listener’s point of view – are introduced in one scene and then pop up again four or five hours later in the listening experience but must be immediately recognized and remembered.  At points he seems to be channelling the entire League of Gentlemen through one set of vocal cords. There are moments you could swear you listening to Reese Shearsmith’s angry old lady arguing with Mark Gatiss’ uncertainly plodding autocrat.  Other bits of Starkey’s mental casting are inspired, liked Hactar the evil (in principle) supercomputer sounding like nothing so much as a somewhat bored Welsh shopkeeper.

His Tom Baker is remarkable but takes a little getting used to. In essence, Starkey perfectly captures Baker’s louche, slightly ironic mode of delivery and tone of voice and then sticks with it. If his Fourth Doctor has a flaw is it that it doesn’t swoop around the full range of emotion and unpredictable acting choices Baker revelled in. But if this Doctor sails through the tale being ironically amused at everything, it’s no terrible thing. And with Baker’s voice being so rich and distinctive, being able to replicate it so well in any of its modes is worthy of great praise.

 

Overall then, Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen is worth checking out more as a historical footnote than as an original work. Strangely enough, more so to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fans than to Doctor Who fans. But it is worth checking out, especially in audio form, if only for Dan Starkey’s contribution.

 





Delta and the Bannermen AudiobookBookmark and Share

Thursday, 11 January 2018 - Reviewed by Dustin Pinney
Delta and the Bannermen (Credit: BBC Audio)
Delta and the Bannermen
Written by Malcolm Kohll
Read by Bonnie Langford

Relased by BBC Audio June 2017

As a televised serial, Delta and the Bannermen could have been a hilarious, delightful, Douglas Adams-esque romp with a dark side. Many of the elements are there. Completely alien beings transforming themselves into humanoids in order to visit Disneyland in the 1950s as part of a “Nostalgia Tour”, everyday people trying their best to work according to procedure in the face of utter strangeness, and intergalactic war taking place at a holiday camp in Wales. Unfortunately, it’s an uneven, overly violent, tonal mess, with delusions of depth.

As a novel, Delta and the Bannermen could have been an edgy sci-fi epic with fleshed out characters, deeply detailed mythology, real character motivations, high stakes, and humor. Where else but a novel would it be possible to explore Chimeron culture,  craft a romance between Delta and Billy that feels genuine, or uncover the psychology of why an assassin on vacation just can’t help but make a kill (there has to be more than his enjoyment of it)? Instead the novel adds very little to what was already an unbalanced story.

As an audiobook, Delta and the Bannermen has fun music, an effective soundtrack, and Bonnie Langford’s narration can be a delight when she’s really giving it her all and having a blast. However the weak story holds the entire production back. It is simply too difficult to separate the story from the audiobook to enjoy all the work that went into recording this otherwise pretty impressive audiobook.   

The setting of Delta and the Bannermen requires a soundtrack rich with popular music of the time. Characters openly reference songs like “Rock Around The Clock” and “Why Do Fools Fall In Love.” It would be hard to imagine the story without a few needle drops of those vintage hits. Somehow the producers were able to concoct generic, certainly royalty free, Rock & Roll tracks sufficient enough to capture that particular musical shade of the correct pop cultural tapestry.    

Not to say the music is all perfect. Perhaps the most entertaining piece of the score is what appears to be the main theme. A sweeping, swashbuckling suite that may have been more at home in a pirate story, but is equally thrilling here.

Telling a story about about genocide across the stars, especially when the antagonist is as murder-happy as Gavrok, gunfire and explosions are crucial. At no point does the artillery become a wall of pounding sound overpowering the music or narration. Every auditory element is layered to compliment each other, resulting in a sense of immersion.  

Of course the natural standout is Bonnie Langford as the storyteller. She is tasked with performing a variety of accents for more characters than necessary, and she does so superbly. While Mel may not be everyone’s favorite companion, Bonnie Langford is a first class talent, and she shines throughout the entirety of this book.  

Delta and the Bannermen, regardless of the form it takes, is a story with a lot of promise that never reaches its full potential. At least this version has a narrator who seems to be enjoying themself.

 




The Mind Of Evil (AudioBook)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 5 May 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who - The Mind Of Evil (Credit: BBC Audio)

Novelization By -Terrance Dicks
(based on a story by Don Houghton)

Read By - Richard Franklin

Released: 6th April 2017

Available On DIgital Download, or on CD - (4 CDs)
Approx Duration - 246 Minutes

BBC AUDIO

This unabridged recording is the latest such release from BBC Audio to cover the novelizations of the Third Doctor Era, following different adventures featuring Daleks, Axons, and The Master (as here depicted in typically brilliant fashion by Chris Achilleos, on the retained book cover). 


Mind is a distinctive adventure in that whilst it immediately followed Terror Of The Autons, it was strongly implied that the Doctor, Jo, and UNIT all kept very busy, looking to consolidate their role as a professional group of defence - both for their native country, and the wider world in general. The Master also has kept himself occupied, and (for once) chooses to use a pseudonym in ‘Emile Keller' which gives no hint at his true nature.

The original TV story was for many years notorious for having a paucity of actual colour material, and yet by being in black-and-white it actually took on a more adult and 'horror-surreal' tone, than Don Houghton or Timothy Combe ever intended. Eventually it became 're-colourised' for DVD release, and works well enough in the format it was intended to be shown. Some Doctor Who stories have only mildly above-average scripts, but become strong or even outstanding due to first-rate work by their director. I would certainly place the opening and closing stories from Season Thirteen in that bracket. With Mind, there was a potential story idea to rival the first effort from Houghton, but the tale as transmitted did have some consistency and logic issues. It mattered little, as virtually the whole cast and the production values are as robust as any from the Jon Pertwee Years.

This adaptation comes courtesy of Terrance Dicks; which was the case for so many TARGET books at the time. The first half of the book seems to signify greater effort from the story's original script-editor, in terms of expanding on the characters and explaining the overall set-up of the story. Thereafter, nothing vital is lost, but opportunities to get into the inner thoughts of the principle characters, as well as to really explore the threat to Earth in terms of the missile and the shaky political situation are not really seized upon. However, choosing to keep the titular monster/machine as mysterious as possible is a good move, as much of its creepiness lies in the lack of clarity behind how it is alive, and how it is able to kill with greater ease as the narrative progresses.

Jo Grant in her second story would rarely have such strong material again - only The Curse of Peladon, and most of her final season would again see such heights of maturity, quick thinking and sheer likeability. Whilst Katy Manning never turned in a half-hearted televisual interpretation, she was forced to often portray a semi-helpless damsel, needing aid from the Doctor or one of the supporting characters.

The Doctor’s ‘Moriarty’ is rarely better than here, being both ruthless and generally very sure of himself, with only the autonomous Keller Machine getting him truly flustered. At one point, he is totally convincing when he threatens the Doctor - "You'll do nothing, or I'll put a bullet through both your hearts." Surely this is one of the few ways that a regeneration can be cut off and thus lead to a Time Lord's premature demise. (Turn Left gave us another example). And during the finale, the brutal manner in which the Master escapes a trap laid by the Doctor - partly due to the after-effects of his machine being tested on the hardened criminal Barnham - is a notable moment where a fictional character created for escapism, feels chillingly credible as a threat.

The biggest problem I have with the story - apart from how the Kellar Machine actually helps with the ‘World War Three plan - is the portrayal of the Chinese. The Talons of Weng Chiang has come under fire in the years following its transmission, but this story does itself even less favours. The sheer number of repeated references to a "Chinese Girl" (which is already suspect,given that she is an adult woman) are carried over into this novelisation. There is also some broadly played humour over the Doctor being able to speak to Fu Peng, but the Brigadier completely struggles to understand a single word. Also, the Doctor's somewhat boasting references to meeting Chairman Mao seem to be a somewhat questionable choice of political commentary by Barry Letts and Dicks, and have only become further awkward over the ensuing years. Finally, the TV cliffhanger for Episode Two was risible in the extreme. I could never credit a world-weary diplomat having any kind of phobia of a ceremonial symbol like a 'Chinese Dragon'. That Dicks tries to explain this away as a strong distrust of the Chinese in general perhaps was acceptable when the book was published, but is glaringly dated now. And for good measure, it really makes no sense that the others who intervene on Chin Lee (channelling the Kellar Machine) in this assassination attempt would see the same thing.

In this novel version the Master having a chauffeur of Afro-Caribbean roots is barely acknowledged, but then the original TV story gave no dialogue to the character either, and furthermore he is simply missing by the end of the story. Whether he was hypnotised or simply on good pay was also left to one’s interpretation. This is a more minor reservation I have, however,. The Master really does make a great initial appearance with cigar in hand, whilst cruelly giving his latest destructive orders to the mesmerised Captain, from the comfort of his limousine.

Also slightly disappointing is how economical the author is when it comes to UNIT ‘turning the tables’ at Stangmoor. A fantastic set piece - indicative of the TV production being so polished as to qualify as a borderline TV movie – is condensed to its barest details. This was presumably due to the restrictions of page count that the author had to meet. The Invasion of Time, (previously reviewed on this site), had many moments that could be condensed down, or left without embellishment, as the original story was made in trying circumstances and did not fully justify six episodes. But this 1971 action-thriller had a lot more meat on the bones – partly due to the three major plot threats - and more expansion was needed, instead of the opposite.

But now to turn to some praise. The depiction of all of the principle criminals that feature, is very nicely done by Dicks, with evocative and entertaining back stories. I also appreciated how Professor Kettering was depicted as a virtual quack, and was made far less likable in general than the original TV version. Whilst the Doctor would not have wanted him to lose his life, (and especially in the manner he did), there is consequently a tinge of poetic justice owing to how this man carelessly helped the Master with his scheme, with nary a concern for wider society.

As an audio book, this is a solid effort. Sound effects for the riots, the various high-speed vehicles, and the brutal gun shots, all manage to bring the right feeling of tension or excitement. As for the ‘Mind of Evil’ itself, the audio dressing used for this creepy monster/device is perhaps a little stripped-down compared to its TV counterpart, but still effective nonetheless in selling the threat it poses to both mental and physical well-being.

Richard Franklin does fine work in the overall narration of the story. I found his takes on Jo and Benton better than his previous interpretations of these two roles, (which in the parent TV show were classic cases of the actor and character being very close indeed to one another). He is at his very best when breathing life to the self-assured Third Doctor, and of course to the very familiar Yates persona.

The Brigadier gets a passable interpretation, but will always suffer in comparison to Nicholas Courtney's superlative voice. However Season Eight was a distinctly marked downturn in the character's initiative and general intelligence. (Whilst The Three Doctors had some infamous moments, it did not actually signal anything new at that point). As a result, the rather more lackadaisical take Franklin has on Lethbridge-Stewart is reflective of the change in depiction of this long-standing character in the show's history.


SUMMARY:

This story is entertaining and a definite change from the standard formula of many a Doctor Who tale. Whilst never getting to the dizzy heights of Inferno - or indeed a good handful of other Third Doctor stories - it is always worth a revisit. This digital and CD production is especially convenient for a person with some other tasks requiring attention, and likewise is a good listen when ‘on the go’. Thus, it ultimately succeeds as being a worthy alternative to one of the better stories, which featured the ‘Earthbound’ Doctor on increasingly prevalent colour television.